Head of Japan's Kanebo apologises over skin stain scandal

TOKYO - The head of Japanese cosmetics giant Kanebo apologised Wednesday over a recall of products blamed for leaving thousands of customers with skin blotches, as the firm faced criticism over delays in halting shipments.

Company president Masumi Natsusaka pledged to overhaul safety controls while temporarily cutting his salary to atone for the widening scandal.

"We offer a whole-hearted apology to customers," Natsusaka told a Tokyo press briefing as he bowed deeply, a common gesture among Japanese executives when issuing a public apology.

"Kanebo will take responsibility for our customers and do our best to help all those who developed symptoms recuperate...We will carry out drastic reforms to our safety controls, making it the first step towards Kanebo becoming trusted again by our customers."

The embattled executive said he and the company's chairman would take a 50-per cent wage cut for six months, while some other executives would temporarily see their pay cut between 10 and 40 per cent.

The apology came after Kanebo admitted it had continued shipping flawed cosmetics blamed for skin blotches for a week after deciding to recall them, possibly increasing the number of customers affected.

Skin whitening products are popular among women in many parts of Asia, with users seeking lighter tones.

However the flawed products have left thousands with uneven colouring and facial blotches.

In July, the company announced it was recalling 54 of its products that contained a substance called 4HPB, a synthetic version of a natural compound developed by the firm.

The move involved about 6.15 million products on retail shelves in Japan, Britain and 10 Asian markets: Taiwan, Hong Kong, South Korea, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Myanmar, the Philippines and Vietnam.

Nearly 10,000 customers, mostly in Japan, have been affected, Kanebo said earlier this week.

The company has said it would pay medical costs for customers left with uneven skin colouring, which in some cases continued after they stopped using the products.

A team of external experts appointed by the company said Kanebo was late in issuing its recall, which came nearly two months after it had received warnings from a doctor who suspected a link between patients suffering skin blotches and the firm's products.

But company officials were "obsessed with the idea that the skin discolouration was a disease" rather than product-related, lawyer Hideki Nakagome told the press briefing Wednesday.

"Kanebo should have taken adequate measures" earlier, added Nakagome, who is heading the company-initiated investigation.